Navigant Research Blog

The Future of Buildings: Connected and Comfortable

— November 6, 2015

During October 26-29, I attended VERGE in San Jose, a conference on “accelerating sustainability solutions in an interconnected world.” This annual GreenBiz event covers the gamut of technology and sustainability—from agriculture and water to my own area of interest: next-generation buildings. At VERGE, the keynotes and panel discussions made it clear that technology is changing our experience in buildings and that the future is not just smart or sustainable, but also connected and comfortable.

Sensors, IoT, and Automation for Comfort

As explained in the Future of Building Management panel, “landlords will be caught flat footed if they don’t follow suit with the consumerization of technology.” This discussion between technology providers and commercial and corporate real estate representatives AtSite, Building Robotics, WeWork, and Under Armour made it clear that the future of the work space is undergoing fundamental change. The growth of co-working space and the commonality of personal technology is changing the definition of best-in-class office space. According to WeWork, the future looks to be dominated by independent workers, with up to 40% of the workforce being defined as entrepreneurs or independent contractors. Furthermore, office workers want to be in control. According to Building Robotics, companies deploying apps for HVAC optimization on individual employee cell phones are seeing 75% engagement.

So, the new workspace is fundamentally about technology and comfort. There is a shift in the marketplace where the business case for intelligent building solutions is expanding from green, to energy efficient, to networked, fine-tuned, and comfortable.

There are also alterations in the way data is gathered. As Enlighted explained, the business case for sensing is changing. The idea of the intelligent building as a platform brings a whole new set of opportunities. According to Enlighted, the applications can now pay for the hardware. The company explained with an example from healthcare: networked lighting with embedded sensing could now be a tool for asset tracking, and this kind of capability dramatically changes the return on sensor investment when the high cost, the movement of assets within a hospital, and the value of loss prevention are considered.

IoT and Defining the Intelligent Building 

At Navigant Research, we are tracking the evolution of the intelligent buildings market. It is clear that the Internet of Things (IoT) is gaining traction in the facilities industry as cost-effective devices make advanced sensing widespread. These applications pay for hardware upgrades and enable unprecedented occupant engagement, delivering energy savings alongside comfort.

Watch for further details on the future of intelligent buildings and the evolution of advanced sensors in Navigant Research’s upcoming report in its Building Innovations service.


Battery Makers Preparing for Post-Lithium Ion Era

— November 6, 2015

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, we hardly knew ye.

Today’s mass-marketed light duty plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) uniformly rely on batteries with Li-ion chemistries, but advancing the technology will hit an upper limit of performance by the end of the decade. Battery makers that spoke at the late October eCarTec conference in Munich stated that the energy density can be doubled while cutting the cell cost of PEV batteries in half by 2020, but that beyond that, battery makers will need to shift to other technologies.

Energy storage and automotive power electronics company Robert Bosch and automaker Renault both presented similar timelines for the beginning of the phaseout of Li-ion batteries. Li-ion cell prices will come down thanks to efficiencies in volume manufacturing at plants run by companies such as Tesla and LG Chem and reductions in the amounts of precious metals used. According to Navigant Research’s report Advanced Energy Storage for Automotive ApplicationsLi-ion pack prices (which include the battery management systems, cooling systems, electronic controls, and wiring) will continue to decline by 5%-6% annually through the remainder of the decade.

Once manufacturing and raw material costs have been optimized, other technologies such as lithium-air, lithium sulfur, and solid-state batteries will begin to take over as the technologies that will offer increased performance in PEVs, said Dr. Holger Fink, senior vice president of Engineering at Robert Bosch Battery Systems GmbH. Fink said that solid state battery technology is the most likely of the alternative battery technologies to be commercialized in the short term, with lithium sulfur unlikely to be commercially viable until closer to 2030.

Bosch is developing solid state battery technology based on the intellectual property it acquired when the company purchased startup battery company SEEO in September 2015. Fink said the solid-state batteries that Bosch are developing feature lithium metal anodes that have increased storage capacity and replaces a flammable liquid electrolyte with a safer dry polymer. One challenge for solid state batteries is the high minimal operating temperature of at least 80°C, which Fink said the company is focusing on in its research.

According to Navigant Research, and as seen in the chart below, by 2020, the global market for Li-ion batteries in automotive applications will reach $25 billion.

 Total Light Duty Consumer Vehicle Li-ion Battery Revenue by Powertrain Type, World Markets: 2015-2024

John Li-Ion Blog Chart(Source: Navigant Research)

Masato Origuchi, chief battery engineer for EV/HEV at Renault and another speaker at eCarTec, echoed Fink’s comments about the 5-year timeframe for Li-ion battery performance gains peaking. He said that improvements in energy density in Li-ion batteries will be able to provide 200 miles of driving range in battery electric vehicles (BEVs) such as the Nissan LEAF (a Renault-Nissan Alliance partner) by 2020. Origuchi said that further improvements in energy density via other technologies could extend the range of a BEV to 600 km (372 miles) or more.

Disruptive innovations in energy storage and many other automotive technologies often takes years longer than initially expected to gain market share over the incumbents due to higher prices and the cautious nature of automakers. As a result, the market share for Li-ion batteries can be expected to erode slowly, even after better performing technologies are first commercialized.


Buildings and Climate Change

— November 6, 2015

Telescopers_webAccording to the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme, the buildings sector is estimated to be worth 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP), or roughly $7.5 trillion. Currently, buildings consume about 40% of global energy, 25% of global water, and 60% of global electricity. Buildings also emit more than 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under the business-as-usual projection accompanied by rapid urbanization, emissions caused by the buildings sector may more than double by 2050.

However, the buildings sector has among some of the most cost-effective and proven solutions for reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions. There are commercially available technologies that can reduce energy demand in buildings by 30% to 80%. Investment in building energy efficiency will lead to significant savings that will help offset incremental costs, providing a quick return on investment. Also, because existing buildings perform far below efficiency potentials in general, there are enormous opportunities for reducing energy consumption. Meanwhile, due to population growth and increasing urbanization, a new construction market is growing in developing countries, where construction activities account for up to 40% of GDP and provide opportunities for adopting energy efficient technologies.

UN Buildings Day

The buildings sector can play a critical role in mitigating climate change by reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions. Consequently, for the first time in the history of climate negotiations, a Buildings Day will be held on December 3, 2015 at the COP21 UN conference on climate change in Paris. This meeting is a mandate from the Lima-Paris Action Agenda of 2014, and it aims to discuss ways to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C to 2°C. The Buildings Day at COP21 will showcase actions already taken by the buildings industry and will serve as an opportunity to encourage communications, collaboration, and implementation among various stakeholders.

In addition, a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction consisting of governments, companies, financial institutions, organizations, academia, associations, professionals, and user networks will officially launch on that day. By putting the buildings and construction sector on the below 2°C path, the alliance commits to helping countries realize their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which are essential drivers for achieving the ambitious global climate goal.


Expanding Options of Community Solar

— November 6, 2015

Portmen_webIn the United States, community solar (also known as shared solar or solar gardens) has been on the rise and is expected to be a 0.5 GW annual market by 2020, according to GTM Research. Over the next 2 years, community solar deployments are expected to increase sevenfold, with an estimated 399 MW installed cumulatively in 2015 and 2016.

Designed specifically for homes unfit to reap the benefits of rooftop solar, community solar provides an option to renters who would be otherwise unlikely to invest in the high prices of rooftop solar. In a community solar setup, customers lease or own solar panels in a community solar garden. The energy produced is transferred to the utility, which then applies solar credits to the customer’s electric bill on a monthly basis based on the customer’s total share of the solar array. However, even with the growth of community solar gardens and the increase in accessibility for users, the costs remain high and are not always affordable.

Annual U.S. Community Solar Installations, 2010-2020E

Krystal Blog Chart

(Source: GTM Research)

Making Community Solar Affordable for Everyone

GRID Alternatives, a non-profit headquartered in Oakland, California, works locally through 10 regional and affiliate offices in California, Colorado, the New York Tri-State Area, and the Mid-Atlantic, as well as internationally in Nicaragua. Grid Alternatives’ Colorado branch has developed the first solar garden in the United States exclusively for those with low or fixed incomes.

Utilities have partnered with Grid Alternatives’ Colorado for its community solar program, offering community solar to Colorado families at no out-of-pocket cost to the family. Requirements for the program’s participants include having a household income that is at or below 80% of an area’s median income and having residence within a utility service area that currently offers the program. Two solar gardens are listed on the company’s website. The first is a 29 kW array available to members of the Grand Valley Power service territory. The second (which lists panels as currently available) is 75 kW in size and is available to Xcel Energy customers who live in Jefferson County.

Other Opportunities

There are a number of programs that focus on making solar affordable for low-income families, but there is still room for growth in the low-income solar market. Unlike GRID Alternatives, most of these other organizations focus on rooftop solar, not community solar. The Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicle Association, for example, is a do-it-yourself organization that assists members in installing solar panels in an effort to cut the cost of labor. The Citizens Energy Solar Homes Program installs solar arrays on the roofs of low-income families in the Imperial Valley of California. Founded in January 2013, the Solar Homes Program provides the homeowner with a 20-year solar panel lease paid for by Citizens Energy, which, on average, saves the home owner 40%-50% of the cost of their electric bill.

Even with the number of programs that focus on bringing solar to low-income families, there is tremendous room for growth. The question remains if the rise of community solar will translate to an increase in solar opportunities for low-income families.


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